Harsh Country, Hard Times
Clayton Wheat Williams and the Transformation of the Trans-Pecos
Western History - Business History - Texas History
6.125 x 9.25, 272 pp.
37 b&w photos. 2 line art. Map. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 09/01/2011
Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life Series
Price:        $35.00

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Harsh Country, Hard Times

Clayton Wheat Williams and the Transformation of the Trans-Pecos

Janet Williams Pollard and Louis Gwin

Clayton Wheat Williams—West Texas oilman, rancher, civic leader, veteran of the Great War, and avocational historian—was a risk taker, who both reflected and molded the history of his region. His life spanned a dynamic period in Texas history when automobiles replaced horse-drawn wagons, electricity replaced steam power in the oilfields, and barren and virtually worthless ranch land became valuable for the oil and gas under its surface.

The setting for Williams’s story, like that of his father before him, is Fort Stockton in the rugged Trans-Pecos region of Texas. As a youngster accompanying his father on surveying trips through the land, and subsequently as a cadet at Texas A&M, he developed a toughness that served him well in France and Flanders. His letters home provide an unusually nuanced picture of what life was like for an American officer in Europe during the Great War.

After the war, he returned home, where he taught himself petroleum geology—so effectively that he picked the site of what would become in 1928 the deepest producing oil well in the world. With his brother, he mapped the structure of what later became the Fort Stockton oil and gas field, and he went on to hammer out a successful career in the boom and bust cycles of the West Texas oil industry.

On the civic front, Williams served for fourteen years as a Pecos County commissioner, and he held offices in a number of social and civic organizations. Imbued with a deep love for the history of his region, he wrote (with the editorial help of historian Ernest Wallace at Texas Tech University) Texas’ Last Frontier: Fort Stockton and the Trans-Pecos, 1861–1895, published by Texas A&M University Press in 1982. Nonetheless, by some of his neighbors he may be best remembered for his role in drying up the town’s famous Comanche Springs by pumping water feeding the spring’s aquifer to irrigate his and others’ farms west of town.

Williams left behind a treasure trove of letters, personal papers and writings, and interviews with his family, helping document in rich detail the history of an unforgiving land as well as what life was like during a pivotal period of American history. These materials, which form the core of the present manuscript, reveal a life that made a difference in the economy and history of the region and the nation at large.


JANET WILLIAMS POLLARD collected and organized her father’s archival materials, visited the sites in France where he was stationed in World War I, traveled throughout Texas and New Mexico to retrace her father’s career, and listened to and recorded stories told by relatives and friends. She now lives in Midland.
LOUIS GWIN taught in Virginia Tech’s Department of Communication for fifteen years. The author of Speak No Evil: The Promotional Heritage of Nuclear Risk Communication (Praeger, 1990), he lives in Henderson, Nevada.



What Readers Are Saying:

"Janet Williams Pollard's book, Harsh Country, Hard Times, is a welcome capstone to the 'life and times' of Clayton Wheat Williams of Fort Stockton, Texas. Pioneer oilman, rancher, farmer, engineer, elected official, author, and West Texas historian Clayton Williams was a bigger than life character who could be legitimately called 'Mr. West Texas' because of his many achievements and his impact on West Texas history. In tackling such a project Pollard effectively chronicles Williams' life and extols the family's historic legacy as it relates to the history of both Texas and America. Williams' ancestors came west with Daniel Boone via the Wilderness Trail, fought in the 'Indian Wars' in the Old Northwest and journeyed on the historic Santa Fe Trail before O.W. Williams, Clayton's father, eventually settled in Fort Stockton, Texas. Clayton Williams' life reads like a 20th Century Texas history primer. Williams' was raised in the West Texas frontier, grew up in ranch country, fought in World War I, worked as a petroleum engineer in the 1920s West Texas oil boom, wildcatted his own wells in the 1930s and 1940s, pioneered irrigated farming, invested in ranch land and served numerous times as a public official. Pollard writes a useful history that is lavish with family asides and anecdotes from hitherto confidential family oral histories along with extensive corroboration from the extensive family archive. While Pollard is Clayton's daughter, she speaks directly and in a balanced manner about a number of controversial events in family history—i.e. the A.J. Royal-O.W. Williams feud and the Comanche Springs dry-out. What emerges is a history of West Texas, an interesting biography, and an in-depth accounting of how West Texans 'won the west' on the last frontier in the contiguous United States."—Tai Kreidler, Executive Director, West Texas Historical Association


"The Williams family of Fort Stockton is undoubtedly the best-documented family in West Texas. Harsh Country, Hard Times is a fond daughter's portrait of a remarkable father. Their account is even-handed and surprisingly unbiased. Harsh Country, Hard Times is a very personal book. It is not a major contribution to the history of West Texas, but it is a warm and entertaining insight into the life of one who helped make that history."--Lonn Taylor, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"...an intriguing portrait of a West Texas businessman, historian, and community leader...an engaging look back at a man of many talents and abilities."--Diana Davids Hinton, The Journal of Arizona History

“…an intriguing portrait of a West Texas businessman, historian, and community leader…an engaging look back at a man of many talents and abilities”—Diana Davids Hinton, The Journal of Arizona History

“Not your typical history book, Harsh Country, Hard Times is an intensely personal and loving chronicle largely written by Williams’s daughter…nevertheless sought to write a serious biography…offer nuanced snapshots of this era and provide the narrative backbone…secondary sources provide historical context to complement the family materials. The authors wonderfully weave these remembrances into the narrative. Pollard and Gwin have largely succeeded, producing an insightful book not just for West Texans but also for a broader audience.”—Mark W. Beasley, Journal of Southern History

The authors give a full account of the history of the oil industry in the state and the role that Williams played in developing it; again, this is one of the many strengths of the biography.”—The Chronicles of Oklahoma


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